CHAPTER NINE
EDUCATING ADULTS

Democratic education continues after school not only for children but for adults who learn from books, plays, concerts, museums, newspapers, radio, and even television. “What one knows is, in youth, of little moment; they know enough who know how to learn.”1 But many adults in our society, less fortunate than Henry Adams, do not learn enough in school to continue their education without the aid of more formal instruction. A substantial minority of American citizens are functionally illiterate. They need a second chance at schooling. Many adults who are literate want to further their formal education. Yet the responsibilities of most adults prevent them from going back to school as full-time students. If literate or illiterate adults are to be given a second chance at formal education, it will have to be significantly different from the first.

Adult education therefore poses three very different questions for democratic governments. What should the role of government be in supporting (1) cultural opportunities for adults, (2) higher education for adults who want it, and (3) primary education for adults who need it? I begin with the question of public support for culture and end with the problem of adult illiteracy, which takes us back again to basics.


ADULTS AND DEMOCRATIC CULTURE

Democratic societies can consciously reproduce themselves by providing cultural opportunities for adults as well as children, but many liberal theorists claim that the production and distribution of culture for adults must be left to private, not public authorities. The claim has been rigorously defended most recently by John Rawls. “There is no more justification for using the state apparatus to compel some citizens to pay for unwanted benefits that others desire,” Rawls argues, “than there is to force them to reimburse others for their private expenses.” If cultural institutions are not necessary for “promoting directly or indirectly the social conditions that secure the equal liberties” or for “advancing in an appropriate way the long-term interests of the least ad

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1
Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams [1918] (New York: Modern Library, 1931), p. 314.

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